In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.
The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
The Tao is everything. I said that, yesterday. And, it is worth saying again, today. When the Tao is lost, it is our connectedness with everything that is lost. Then, things start to go horribly wrong; both, in our lives, and by way of extension, in our world.
Things are just so much better when we are in harmony with the Tao. Pristine is the way Lao Tzu describes it in the opening lines of today’s chapter. A clear and spacious sky. A solid and full Earth. All creatures flourishing together. And, everyone content with the way things are: endlessly repeating themselves, endlessly renewed. That is what being connected with the Tao, and thus everything, means.
But the picture changes drastically when we lose our connectedness with everything. Then, we start interfering with the Tao. Why? Well, we are lost and confused. Soon, that pristine picture of a beautiful world is replaced with a dystopian vision. The sky has become filthy. The Earth is become depleted. The equilibrium crumbles. Creatures become extinct.
It isn’t hard for us to figure out in what kind of world we find ourselves living now. We want that pristine vision. But our present reality is the dystopian one. We don’t like it, and we wonder what exactly can one lone individual do about it.
What is needed is individuals, like you and me, to regain our connectedness to the Tao. Then we can start making a real difference in our world. All it is going to take is compassion, understanding, and humility.
For Lao Tzu, that one lone individual is the Master, who views the parts with compassion because he understands the whole. He understands his connection with the whole. He sees how the parts have been severed from the whole. How they have lost their connectedness with the whole. He acts as a pattern for the world. Showing each separate part how to be reconnected to the whole. This takes making humility your constant practice. You can’t be interested in glittering like a jewel. Glittering jewels do attract attention to themselves. But that takes attention away from the whole. Being a pattern, is letting the Tao shape you into whatever you need to be. And, that always seems to end up making you as rugged and common as stone. Just like any other stone. Not very attractive. Not drawing attention to itself. Only drawing attention to the Tao. And that, my friends, is everything.
We need to get this settled, once and for all. Nature wins in the end. Oh, we can interfere with the Tao. Sadly, we all too often do. And, in the process, we mess up things quite badly. Still, nature does win in the end. Count on it.
It is Spring in the Ozarks; here, in south central Missouri, the trees and bushes have been in full bloom. And that has me thinking of gardening. I know I have told this story before, but it bears repeating, because it tells of how nature always wins in the end. It was years ago, back when I was a child. My family had a large garden in our backyard. I remember vividly how we took a plot of land that was covered in grass and turned it into a garden. We had to get rid of all the grass, battling with weeds for years. Along with that, we had many harvests of the one thing that Missouri soil seems to be rich with, rocks. How many tons of rocks we pulled out of that garden plot, is something I can’t begin to calculate. We plowed and tilled, year after year. And, I must admit, though it was never a secret to anyone, I despised working in that garden. It was the weeds and rocks that soured me. They never seemed to go away. Oh, we got lots of yummy vegetables, thanks to our efforts. But that was little consolation to me. I hated it. Which is why, now, I am happily gardening the lazy way, with a raised garden bed. Yay! No more rocks and weeds.
But, getting back to the story, we only had that garden until all us kids grew up and moved away. Then, my parents gave that garden back to nature. And, within a few short years, you would never know that a thriving garden had once been there. My Dad didn’t have to do anything to let nature return things to equilibrium. All he had to do was leave things alone. We had been battling with nature for years to have that garden. And nature put up quite the fight. And, in the end, nature won. That is my story. It just goes to show that every man-made thing is only going to last so long as nature allows it to last.
So don’t be discouraged by the dystopian vision you see all around you. Nature will win in the end. We really don’t need to worry about nature. Though, we maybe should worry for us humans. What, or who, are we really harming with our habitual interfering? Us. But that is why it takes individuals, like you, like me, who will act with compassion and understanding. Oh, and with humility, too. We need to be the pattern for the world of the way we want our world to be. Let the Tao take care of shaping you.